Parents may be baffled when their capable children have a great deal of difficulty learning particular skills in school. Sometimes they may suspect the difficulty is related to their children not working hard enough, and of course, sometimes they are correct in those observations. Children who are not learning well because of lack of effort are underachieving. Children who struggle with particular subjects despite good effort typically have learning disabilities. The three most common learning disabilities are dyslexia, dysgraphia, and discalculia; problems with reading and spelling, writing, and arithmetic, in that order. (See Teacher Tips to help you determine if your child is more likely learning disabled or a dependent underachiever.)
If your children seem to be having particular difficulties with a subject, ask their teacher to arrange for a school evaluation. Private child psychologists can also be consulted for evaluations. The school psychologist usually conducts the evaluation, although learning disability teachers may also participate. If testing indicates that children have disabilities, schools are required to provide programs to help them with their problem areas.
Ironically, although early intervention is most effective, early diagnosis is difficult. Early diagnosis is difficult because there are so many individual differences in the way children learn. For example, some children may learn to read later than others but may catch up to other children very quickly. Also, in order to qualify for a specific learning disabilities program in school, children must test quite far below their abilities. Young children haven't learned that much in their academic subject, so it is unlikely that they will score far enough behind on their tests to qualify for a program.
If your children are diagnosed with learning disabilities, it's important for you to help them feel confident in their intelligence despite their disability. It is also important that you continue to encourage their independent homework accomplishment because they are often tempted to depend on their parents for help.
Parents who realize their children have learning disabilities are frequently vulnerable to children's petitions for more help than they really need. Children with learning disabilities should receive additional tutoring from a teacher particularly qualified to teach children with disabilities. Tape recorders and computers can also aid children with some learning disabilities. Special efforts may need to be made to help learning disabled children maintain their intellectual confidence and to avoid anxiety about their disability. It's most important for parents and children to realize that many children adjust to their learning disability with time and assistance and are not permanently disadvantaged by their disability.
Teacher Tips: WAYS TO DISCRIMINATE BETWEEN DEPENDENCE AND DISABILITY
Some children who are learning disabled have also become dependent. The key to distinguishing between disability and dependence is the children's responses to adult support. If children perform only with adult support, they are too dependent whether or not they also have a learning disability.
Child asks for explanations in particular subjects that are difficult.
Child asks for explanations regularly despite differences in subject matter.
Child asks for explanations of instructions only when given in one instruction style, either auditory or visual, but not both.
Child ask for explanation of instructions regardless of style used, either auditory or visual.
Child's questions are specific to materials, and once process is explained, child works efficiently.
Child's questions are not specific to material but appear to be mainly to gain adult attention.
Child's disorganization or slow pace continues despite motivating rewards.
Child is disorganized or slow in assignments but is much more efficient if reward is given.
Child works independently once process is clearly explained.
Child works only when an adult is nearby at school and/or at home.
Although child may learn faster in a one-to-one setting, he/she also learns efficiently in a group setting provided the child's disability is taken into consideration. Child learns only when given one-to-one instruction but will not learn in groups even when instructional modeling is varied.
Source: Excerpts from Learning Leads Q-Cards. Teacher Tips by Sylvia B. Rimm (Watertown, WI: Apple Publishing Co., 1990)